A spaceflight company has unveiled a new rocket as it opened its headquarters and rocket design facility in the Highlands. Orbex, which is involved in plans to create a spaceport in Sutherland, said its new base in Forres, Moray, will bring more than 130 jobs to the region.
At the opening on Thursday the company unveiled its Prime rocket which is designed to deliver small satellites into the Earth’s orbit.
Made from a specially-formulated lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium composite, it includes what the company said is the world’s largest 3-D printed rocket engine.
It is designed to work with bio-propane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel source that cuts carbon emissions.
Prime will make its maiden flight from Scotland in 2021, when it will carry an experimental payload from UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), which manufactures small satellites.
Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Orbex’s new rocket design facility brings Britain one step closer to having its own domestic commercial launch capability and firmly positions the UK as Europe’s frontrunner for those looking to Earth’s orbit and beyond for new opportunities.
“The new facility and future spaceport operations will help unlock vast economic and societal benefits not just in Scotland but right across the UK.”
The 2,000 square metre headquarters building in Forres will combine a rocket design and integration facility, an operations centre and executive offices.
UK Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “The plans for a spaceport in Sutherland have already attracted significant investment, and Orbex’s rocket design facility will bring more than 100 new jobs to the Scottish Highlands region – this is our modern Industrial Strategy in action.
“The space sector is a great British success story and we are working closely with industry to ensure we thrive in the commercial space age.
“New innovations, capabilities and expertise are driving significant growth, with the sector generating close to £15 billion in income each year.”
Chris Larmour, Orbex chief executive, said: “Since the announcement in July 2018 that we had been chosen to launch from the Sutherland spaceport, Orbex has been on an incredible journey, largely behind-the scenes.
“That is changing today, as we publicly reveal the company’s technical and commercial momentum.
“Not only do we have a full engineering prototype of the complete Stage 2 of the Prime rocket, but also a growing roster of customers hoping to be among the first to launch satellites from Scotland.”
Scotland’s innovation minister Ivan McKee MSP welcomed the new facility.
He said: “The new Orbex facility at Forres is an incredibly welcome development for Scotland’s space sector.
“It brings us one step closer to reaching our ambitions of hosting the first orbital launch facilities in Europe and will complete our full offering to build, launch and operate satellites right here in Scotland.”